Leaders of Minnesota's biggest American Indian tribes are criticizing U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber for his efforts to build opposition to President Joe Biden's pick for Interior secretary, who is herself a tribal member.
Most egregiously, state tribal leaders said, Stauber — a Republican whose northeastern Minnesota district is home to several of the state's largest bands — did not even give them a heads-up that he would be trying to sink the nomination of Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico to lead the Department of the Interior.
"We felt like we were blindsided," Faron Jackson Sr., chairman of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, said Thursday. "You know, we might not change his opinion or his outlook, but at least give us the consultation."
Several groups of tribal leaders sent blistering letters to Stauber last week after learning that he had been reaching out to House colleagues seeking co-signers for a letter to the new Biden administration asking that Haaland's name be withdrawn from consideration.
Stauber cited Haaland's support for the Green New Deal, a broad environmental initiative put forward by progressive Democrats as a means of fighting climate change.
Calling Haaland a "direct threat to working men and women and a rejection of responsible development of America's natural resources," Stauber said her support for the Green New Deal makes her unfit to lead the Department of Interior.
Stauber declined an interview request for this story. A spokeswoman, Kelsey Mix, said his opposition to Haaland is tied only to support for environmental policies that Mix characterized as "anti-jobs and anti-mining."
Stauber "remains committed to working with and building strong relationships with tribal communities and their leaders, and he will continue to hear them out on this issue," Mix wrote in an e-mail. She said that Stauber has not yet sent the letter about Haaland to the Biden administration.
Haaland is an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo. In 2018, she was one of the first two American Indian women elected to the U.S. House.
In December, in announcing the nominations of Haaland and his picks for other environmental, energy and natural resources agencies, Biden said: "They share my belief that we have no time to waste to confront the climate crisis, protect our air and drinking water, and deliver justice to communities that have long shouldered the burdens of our environmental harms."
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Haaland would also become the country's first American Indian Cabinet secretary. The Interior Department is the main federal agency that manages relations between the U.S. government and tribes; the Bureau of Indian Affairs is part of the agency.
Jackson said several tribal leaders had a brief phone call with Stauber after the dispute blew up and that he apologized for not consulting them. But Jackson said he was disappointed that Stauber wouldn't reconsider his opposition.
"We view [Haaland] as someone who can turn a dark page on our shared history with the U.S. government and finally work in true partnership with us," Jackson said.
Minnesota tribes have raised concerns about several high-profile mining and pipeline projects in northern Minnesota, while Stauber has been an outspoken proponent.
"We want to make sure we're protecting our clean water, our forests, our air," Jackson said. "We're caretakers of the Earth here, and we want to look at different avenues for producing energy."
In a separate letter to Stauber about his opposition to Haaland, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin pushed back at Stauber's argument that policies championed by Haaland would be bad for jobs in his district.
"Collectively, the five tribal governments in your district are the largest employees in the 8th District and the vast majority of jobs we have created are held by non-Native people," she wrote.
Tribal leaders noted particular disappointment in Stauber given his membership on the House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples. Haaland has also been a member.
"Your opposition to the first and only American Indian ever nominated to a Cabinet position is likely to reverberate across Indian country," wrote the leaders of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, the Grand Portage Band of Superior Chippewa, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.